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‘You killed my brother’: Sister of Nathaniel Woods confronts Alabama governor over controversial execution

Pamela Woods, sister of condemned Alabama inmate Nathaniel Woods, speaks to reporters outside Holman Correctional Facility ahead of his scheduled execution on March 5. (Kimberly Chandler/AP)
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This story has been updated.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) was answering a question about the novel coronavirus for a gaggle of reporters in Montgomery on Thursday, when a woman in a black baseball cap walked up and wedged herself between the politician and the journalists.

“You killed my brother,” Pamela Woods said in a calm but forceful voice. The governor had already begun to turn away when her staff rushed to move Ivey along.

“He’s an innocent man and you killed him” she added, as Ivey and her staff quickly walked away. The grieving sister and the protesters standing with her shouted at the governor as she left: “Murderer!”

The confrontation captured on film by the television reporters gathered for a 2020 Census kickoff event came one week after the state executed Nathaniel Woods, 43, convicted as an accomplice to the slaying of three police officers in 2004.

Ivey’s office did not immediately return a request for comment early Friday.

Alabama’s death row has been a magnet for controversy in recent years. There have been multiple appeals to stop the execution of another black man, Toforest Johnson, who was convicted of killing a police officer and sentenced to death. In that case, the state paid witnesses who testified against Johnson, without disclosing the payments to the defense team or the jury.

An illusion of justice: The baffling conviction and death sentence of Toforest Johnson reveal a broken system

And in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction and death sentence of a black man falsely accused of shooting two fast-food employees — his gun didn’t match the bullets and he had an alibi — but only after Anthony Ray Hinton had already served nearly 30 years in prison for the crime.

Woods did not pull the trigger of the gun that killed three officers in 2004. His co-defendant, Kerry Spencer, did. In the weeks leading up to Woods’s execution, his family, activists and Spencer pleaded with Ivey to reconsider the man’s sentence.

Spencer said Woods had not played a role in the shooting, the Associated Press reported, but prosecutors argued the man had conspired with Spencer to commit the murders when police showed up to serve a warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor assault charge. Officers Carlos Owen, Harley A. Chisholm III and Charles R. Bennett died after Spencer shot them with armor-piercing bullets.

As officers served the warrant, Woods moved away from his back door, into his home. (Woods’s former lawyer disputes whether an active warrant existed at the time of the attempted arrest.) Police entered to make the arrest, and Woods told the officers he would surrender. Then, Spencer woke from a nap, and began shooting. Spencer said Woods did not have a gun and ran away as soon as he started firing shots. Prosecutors called it an “ambush.”

“Nathaniel had no part in those actions of another man, Kerry Spencer,” Pamela Woods told reporters in Alabama before the execution, reported.

In the argument over a stay of Nathaniel Woods’s execution, state prosecutors described him as a “cop-killer,” while supporters called him an “innocent man."

Activists, including Martin Luther King III and Kim Kardashian West, urged Ivey to stay the execution and review the case to determine whether Woods’s trial had been fair. They saw a man who had not killed anyone slated to die for a crime another man had confessed to and been convicted of.

“Killing this African American man, whose case appears to have been strongly mishandled by the courts, could produce an irreversible injustice,” King wrote in a letter to the governor. “Are you willing to allow a potentially innocent man to be executed?”

Prosecutors argued Woods had been complicit in the murders, and should be held accountable for his role in the slaying of three police officers.

“The falsehoods are the descriptors ‘surrendered’ and ‘innocent’: neither apply whatsoever to Nathaniel Woods, whose actions directly caused the deaths of three policemen and injury to another,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement on the eve of the execution.

Despite the pleas for mercy from Woods’s family, co-defendant and activists, Ivey allowed the execution to move forward on March 5.